How does the use of mobile phones by 16-24 year old socially excluded women affect their capabilities?

Faith, Rebecca (2016). How does the use of mobile phones by 16-24 year old socially excluded women affect their capabilities? PhD thesis The Open University.



This research looks at the impact of mobile phone use on the lives and opportunities of 16-24 year-old socially excluded women, using a novel, cross-disciplinary framework of the capability approach and affordances.

Fieldwork took the form of semi-structured interviews in 2013-14 with 30 women between the ages of 16-24, and four youth workers. The instrumental affordances of mobile phones are examined to understand whether they provide a means to address issues relating to work, health, education and housing. The impact of the maintenance and communicative affordances of mobile phones on women’s lives and relationships is also critically examined.

The fieldwork showed that respondents were making limited use of instrumental affordances to address issues of social exclusion. Poverty impacted on women’s mobile phone use: they lacked funds to repair their phones and experienced intermittent connectivity. Respondents were often paying a high proportion of their income for their mobile phones, going over call limits and breaking contracts. Mobile phones were contributing to a ‘digitally gendered’ identity, including technology-facilitated sexual harassment and gendered communicative practices.

Economic and social circumstances meant that half of respondents were reliant on these devices for their Internet connection, and thus for a wide range of instrumental purposes. This demonstrates the value of research on women’s use of mobile phones that is alive not just to gendered technology use, but also to structural issues of class and poverty.

This study shows the strength of cross-disciplinary approaches to studies on the social effects of inequalities of access to digital tools, particularly in the use of theories from the field of human computer interaction to ‘materialise’ understanding of the relationship between social and digital exclusion. It also makes a significant contribution to knowledge on the use of mobile phones by socially excluded young women in the UK.

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